where the writers are

Where else in the world could you be on a city bus at midnight, when the driver throws up his hands, declares, mi son sfasta riats, (my member has had enough), pulls the bus over to the side of the road, and shouts andiam a piglia une cafe, (let's go get coffee). All the young swains, like myself, descended from the bus behind him and went off on foot through the darkened streets on a quest for an open coffee bar. We finally found one a few minutes later, where the barman was drawing down the outside shutters as he closed up his shop for the night. He was easily persuaded to reopen for our little group of ten young men. We consumed what was left of his pastries with our coffee and headed back to the bus.

Such is the way of this anarchic city, where the garbage piles up to the second story, and the Camorra holds sway over neighborhoods with the worst poverty in all of Europe. When I was there thirty some years ago, you could observe the smugglers' boats in the harbor operating in broad daylight, watch a gang of car thieves strip an entire block of its most desirable cars in minutes, and see the little Fiat Cinquecento jump up onto the sidewalks and tear past the traffic at rush hour, scattering pedestrians in their paths.

But, somehow, life seemed to go on there, due to the self-regulation of ordinary hard working folks. It was home to some of the warmest, most hospitable people on earth. People whom I hardly knew who unashamedly invited me home to their tiny barren flats and shared what meager repast they had for no other reason than friendship.

I explored every lane and alley in the oldest quarters of the city. I loved the open air markets, where the vendors called out their wares and prices in the vulgar but melodic local dialect. I walked through some of the poorest streets, well after dark, with nothing to guide me but the moonlight more times than I could count, and no one ever tried to rob me. Sometimes I would get terribly lost, but I would always find my way home.

Due to the dollar's exchange value, on a lowly enlisted man's pay, I could eat out with my girl friend every night of the week, enjoy opera and ballet at San Carlo, and still have money left over for elegant clothes and weekend excursions to Capri, Ischia, Positano, or farther afield to the great architectural towns of the north. The food was divine wherever we ate and was always reasonably priced. For a young man from a dull, small town, Naples was an experience that satisfied me for a lifetime. If I never travel again, I can look back upon it fondly and say to myself, I was there.